Freda Streeter holds court just about every morning in Dover Harbor when swimmers are preparing for their English Channel swims. The mother of Alison Streeter, 43 time English Channel swimmer, sets about being the life guard in charge as swimmers from all over the world come to train in Dover Harbor. Some are planning to swim the Channel, a few have. Some never will but just want to train there.
Every morning I’d tag along as Doug humbly took his place among them. We got to know some interesting people and we saw some interesting things.
This became a regular practice for us until one morning, a few days before we were to return home, we went down there and the beach was silent and empty. We found no one. It was as if the whole thing was a dream. I was reminded of “Midnight in Paris.” And for the next few mornings we would get up early and drive down to Dover Harbor but, each time, nothing.
On our last morning, even though we had lots of packing and logistics ahead of us, Doug was intent on trying one more time. So down we went. My eyes were still squinty from staying up late on our last night as we tried to fill our minds with “one more thing.” We had taken our kids out to dinner at a local restaurant by the sea and videotaped them as we quizzed them on their perspectives. We walked out on a long pier and I was aware of how uncomfortable I was having my family surrounded by water again. But as I looked back at our little English town I remembered that some things are only their most beautiful when being seen from the water.
So in spite of being disappointed on the last few mornings Doug decided to go down to Dover Harbor and go swimming one more time. I sat alone and watched and took pictures. I hadn’t noticed that she was sitting on a bench behind me. Freda Streeter.
Doug got out of the water and saw her and immediately went to her. What happened next was that she held a one on one court with him. She imparted her wisdom about what to do now, now that his swim was “splendid.” What she said was …
“You do not ever come back here. You have done this now and now you move forward. You have the ultimate feather in your cap. You don’t come back here to set a record or improve your time. You have accomplished the hardest swim in the world and you quit while you are ahead. The people will swoop in on you. (She took her arms and swooped them in to herself.) And then they will swoop out. You will need to keep this in perspective. You will need to watch out for depression. Talk to other channel swimmers about this. There are challenging swims all around the world. Always have your eye on one and always have one scheduled. Good luck to you.”
I felt as if I were witnessing something unearthly. As we left, I expected to turn around and find her to have disappeared. But there she sat, looking out at Dover Harbor.
On the plane ride home he took my hand and told me that he was going to make the Catalina swim in August of next year. He said it so peacefully. I think I need to quit my day job.